Friday, July 31, 2015

West Virginia / Pittsburgh Recap Part III: The Physical Activity Portion of the Trip

We packed all of our physical exertion into the last two days of our stay: hiking, shuffleboard, rafting, horseback riding (for one of us, anyway), and yoga.

On Tuesday we decided to go hiking. We left our Ergo carrier in my car at home, which was a bummer. Jo brought us a Bjorn carrier borrowed from one of her friends, but it didn’t have the waist band attachment and Coco is just too heavy to carry with only the shoulder straps (as David discovered after our short trip to Blackwater Falls). We picked up an inexpensive carrier on our way just to have as a back up, and it had the waist strap, but we quickly learned that when it comes to baby carriers, you get what you pay for. The $70 price difference between the Ergo and the cheap brands shows up in the fit and the adjustments and the padding. The one we got was not very comfortable to wear for long.

We went to the nearby wildlife refuge to learn about the area (like how it was totally decimated by logging in the late 19th and early 20th century) and to get some trail maps, and then we set out. We probably should have taken the boardwalked trail that was stroller friendly, but we decided to be adventurous.

Two minutes into our hike, it started misting. Five minutes in, it was seriously raining, Zuzu had fallen down in the mud, and Coco was wailing in the carrier on David’s back.

photo by David. I'm wearing the poncho. Desperate times, my friends.
We called it a day and headed back to the condo. The afternoon ended up being 75 degrees and overcast, but Zuzu still begged to go swimming, and David took her (such a good dad!).

We spent the evening playing shuffleboard which was so much fun that I want my parents to get a shuffleboard put in their backyard. (We had to google the rules, and modified them slightly to make it more fun, but I really did love it.)

David and I played as a team against my parents. We lost.

Zuzu provided obstacles and entertainment.
Have I mentioned that our condo had two bedrooms? One with a queen bed and one with two twin beds. It was a no-frills kind of place, but at least it was clean. We set the pack & play up in the room with the queen bed and my parents took the two twins. In retrospect, we might have been more comfortable having two beds because there wasn’t a rocking chair, so I’d nurse Coco in our bed and then she didn’t want to go back to the pack & play. My vacation plan was just to nurse her back to bed as the quickest and easiest way to get her settled when she woke up at night, but she caught on to that quickly and was soon snacking FOUR TIMES a night. Because why not? I was always a little nervous that she’d roll off the edge or that Zuzu would elbow her in the face, so I didn’t sleep well at all, and occasionally I’d get her back in the pack & play for a long stretch. Overall it was not very comfortable or restful.

Watching shuffleboard before bed.
Wednesday was our last day in West Virginia, so we made the most of it. David and my dad and I went white-water rafting in duckies. I’d never heard of a ducky before, but they are one-person inflatable boats, about the size of a kayak.

I'm leading the pack here, David's in the middle, my dad is in the back.
It was so much fun, but definitely a little outside my comfort zone. You really had to work to stay in them and upright on class II and class III rapids! I spilled out at the very bottom of one set of rapids—I thought I’d made it through, and just when I started to relax, my ducky went sideways over a rock and dumped me out. My dad came up behind me and was able to help me get back in—not easy to pull yourself up into a boat with just upper arm strength! Especially when my muscles were all shaky from the strain and the adrenaline of paddling my way through the rapids.

I'm in front, David is right behind.
The rapids on the Cheat River were not as extreme as the Green River we rafted in Whistler (obviously the elevation was lower), but being in the little duckies meant that we were really down in the water in a way that we weren’t in the big raft. It was definitely thrilling, especially for someone like me who isn’t an expert by any means! I’d never used a kayak-style paddle before this trip, so it was a real learning experience for me. My dad got a little cocky and decided to "surf" one of the rapids. He copied our guide and did really well... until he tried to get out of it.

Our guide watches as my dad "surfs" in the ducky.
And watches as he spills.

 Our group was small—it was the three of us in duckies plus our guide in a ducky and a mom and her twelve-year-old daughter and a grandpa and his twelve-year-old grandson in a raft with a guide behind us.  The water level was such that rafts and duckies could both go—it had rained so it was up pretty high, but if it had been any higher they wouldn’t have sent out duckies, and if it gets low people can’t really take rafts. I asked our guide if people usually self-select pretty well, or if they ever get people out there on the river who have no business being there (I wasn’t sure I had any business being there at the time, but by the end I definitely felt more confident!) He said people usually take their advice—the mom and daughter had asked about being in a double ducky but since it was the daughter’s first time and the mom hadn’t rowed since college, the owner told them they’d have more fun in a raft (and they did!).

My dad

When I learned they had a double ducky, I said (joking) to David, “Oh, honey, we could have been in a double-ducky together! How romantic! Why didn’t you reserve that?” Our guide laughed and said, “We call that the Divorce Boat. It works better for a parent and child.” (Though my dad and I both noted we are WELL BEYOND the stage where that would have worked for us. We could barely share a minivan for twelve days.)

We stopped a couple places along the river to jump off rocks and had the option to swim. It was pleasantly warm in the sun, and the river was actually much warmer than I’d expected, but towards the end it got overcast and chilly since we were wet from swimming (and spilling, in my case).

David jumps 
I'm such a dork waving at the camera guy. Next time, I'll play it cool.
We went over one big set of class III rapids toward the end of our trip that had an undercut rock. Our guide went ahead to stand by the rock, basically so he could push us away or pull us out if we got past him. This rock had an opening where water flowed through that was big enough to suck in a ducky, but not big enough to let it out on the other side. Scary! That warning was enough to give me the energy to paddle forcefully to the other side of the river and make it through the rapids.

The only trick to staying up in the ducky is to keep the boat facing forward. If you get turned sideways, it’s so easy to spill out. The only problem is that it’s SO EASY to get turned sideways. It was seriously an upper body and core workout, but so much fun.

I highly recommend the Blackwater Outdoor Adventure company if you’re in the Canaan Valley area. I even bought myself a souvenir t-shirt that has a map of the section of the Cheat River that we rafted, with all the named rapids. The one where I spilled was called the Wind Rapids. My dad got fancy surfing his ducky sideways after the Rocking Horse Rapids and ended up spilling out pretty spectacularly as well. (Of course we paid $20 for the CD of photos, worth it if only to get this series.)

We were pretty worn out by the end of it, and I was ready to see the baby, so we headed back to the condo where my mom had kept the girls entertained all on her own that morning. Zuzu was psyched for a horsie ride, so we headed up to the petting zoo that was next door to the condo property, and paid $15 for the VIP petting zoo experience. 

This entitled her to a t-shirt, a cowboy hat, a horseback ride, and a big ol' can of feed for the animals in the barn. 

She's so ready to ride a horse!

Very serious cowgirl. Also, let's thank Bullet for staying alive through this experience.
She was really pumped about getting up on the horse, whose name was Bullet but who, bless his heart, looked like he had one foot in the grave. The petting zoo was obviously his retirement home. When he took his first step, Zuzu's eyes got really big and she grabbed the saddle horn. I thought maybe she would freak out and bail, but she was just fine. Bullet plodded along very nicely with Zuzu on his back, and she chattered to the woman leading the horse the entire way, asking her a million questions ("What dis horse's name? Where you get him from? What dat horse's name? Where he going?" etc.). 

We'd seen a group going on a trail ride as we walked up, so when Bullet got to the end of the road and they turned around to come back, Zuzu kept asking why they weren't going the other way. Evidently she was expecting a full trail ride as a VIP perk. It seemed obvious to me that Bullet wasn't up for that kind of exercise! 

In the barn, we fed a cute little donkey and some llamas and a cute little sheep, and a bitchy little pony named Tinkerbell who butted everyone else out of the way in her effort to eat ALL THE FOOD. David was trying to put some food in Zuzu's hand and Tinkerbell BIT HIM on the thigh because he wasn't feeding her. It was hilarious to me because I wasn't the one who got bit, but you better believe I stayed away from Tinkerbell after that. We also saw some bunny rabbits (including tiny little babies!) and a goat, and we left very satisfied that we'd gotten our money's worth. VIP petting zoo experience, for sure.

When we were at the rafting place, I'd seen a flyer for an outdoor yoga class in Blackwater Falls state park, which was near our condo. When I commented on it, owner of the rafting place said that his wife teaches the class. I said that I wished I had a mat, and he told me that she always has extras and just to give her a call if I wanted to go. So my mom and I decided to go to yoga before dinner. 

It was such a great decision--the stretching was exactly what I needed after my white-knuckle rafting earlier in the day, and the location at the park was gorgeous. The sun was warm, the breeze was cool, the leaves rustled gently as I breathed and stretched. It was a really good feeling.

For dinner that evening, we drove to a tiny town just past Davis called Thomas and had dinner at music café called the Purple Fiddle. They had live music that night, so we decided to pay the cover charge and stay to hear the band.

They were the Honey Dewdrops and they were SO great. There was a hipster couple there with two kids, and Zuzu walked over and introduced herself, instantly making friends with Amos and his two-year-old sister.

We kind of marveled at this because, as my mom commented, walking up to strangers and making friends with them is something I would NEVER have done as a kid. (Or as an adult, really.) Zuzu is just so much braver, cooler, and more social than I am.

She and her new friends played happily, though a little loudly, so we shushed them periodically. We had to interfere when Zuzu SAT HERSELF AT THE PIANO that was just off the stage. Most people were very nice about the kids being there, although David said there were a couple guys glaring at Zuzu and Amos when their shrill little voices got too loud. Eventually we sat Zuzu down with the iPad to babysit her and Amos joined us at our table at that point. His dad came over to make sure that was okay, and that’s when I discovered that Amos and his dad both had charming British accents. Super adorable.

Zuzu and her new (international) friend

We had dinner and beer and ice cream, and Zuzu and I did a little dancing to some of the band's faster songs, and then we called it a night and left between the band’s sets. I would have loved to stay for the second half, but by that point it was 9:30 pm and even though the girls were up until 10:30 or 11:00 many nights of our vacation, I like to pretend in public that they go to bed at a decent hour. Plus we had to pack up the condo to head to Pittsburgh the next morning. Check in tomorrow for the Pittsburgh portion of our trip!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

West Virginia / Pittsburgh Recap Part II: Swimming Pool & Blackwater Falls

The first day in West Virginia was pretty low-key. Zuzu wanted to go swimming, and David was a good sport even though the highs were in the low 80s and the pool was not exactly warm (I only wanted to dip my toes in). Zuzu swam and swam and jumped and jumped and didn’t want to get out even when she was shivering and her lips were turning blue.

Zuzu also gave us a scare at the pool. She has been in swimming lessons for the past seven weeks, and if you've been reading the blog for long, you know that she loves the water. I have been amazed at the progress she's made this summer with swiming, especially because before this vacation, the only pool times she had were half-hour swim lessons and one afternoon at a friend's house. She now swims under water on her own and loves to dive for toys (with help).

One of her favorite things to do (besides be thrown up in the air) is to jump off the side into the pool. We made her follow the same rules they have at swimming lessons: toes on the edge, make eye contact, count to three. But of course she wants to push the boundaries. For some reason, she wanted to jump in while standing on the cover for one of the drain things, which was about twelve inches back from the edge. David told her no (and she actually listened to him, which was a miracle in itself), but as she tried to move up to the edge of the pool, the concrete around the drain cover was slightly raised and uneven, and the ladder coming out of the pool was in her way on the right, and somehow she tripped and fell.

She fell into the pool, which would have made for a soft landing, except that she hit her little chin on the concrete edge on her way in--which made me panicky!

I was freaking out because I thought she could have bitten through her tongue or broken a tooth or gotten a concussion (etc., etc., etc.). As it turned out, she scraped her arm and the underside of her chin pretty good (it turned out to be fortunate it was the bottom of her chin because you couldn’t see the scrape in wedding photos). But she wasn’t seriously hurt. She was crying pretty hard (it scared her, too) but when I asked if she wanted to keep swimming or go back to the condo and get a bandaid, she chose to keep swimming. It was red but not bleeding, so we let her stay. She’s so tough. (And I did hook her up with an Elsa bandaid later.)

My brother and Jo drove down for the night, which was really nice. We were glad to see them and wished they could have stayed longer. They had to get back to Pittsburgh the next evening because they had so much going on before the wedding. We fixed tacos for an easy dinner that night and just hung out at the condo, talking wedding plans and letting Zuzu entertain everyone by freezing our hearts with her powers.

The next day we went to Blackwater Falls state park to see the waterfall. It was an easy “hike” down a boardwalk staircase, but a pretty nice view. 

West Virginia in general was so lovely and green. 

We loved the scenery, and even though I did miss my technology a little bit, it was lovely to be surrounded by nature. David and I even saw a little black bear cross the road in front of us one day as we were driving! (It looked JUST LIKE the bear in Blueberries for Sal.)

After our excursion to the falls, we played a round of putt-putt mini golf. I thought Zuzu would be into it, but she got bored really quickly and whined to go swimming for the last twelve holes. So charming.

Coco was super chill about hanging out in the stroller, but it was a parenting fail because even though sky was overcast and the breeze cool, her cheeks still got rosy from the sun. Zuzu is good about wearing hats, but Coco doesn’t tolerate them for long.

After putt-putt, Zuzu got her wish and we all headed to the pool. Coco pooped in her swim diaper (and out of her swim diaper onto my thigh) just after we arrived, so she and I made a quick exit to get cleaned up. My life is so glamorous.

That evening, we drove into Davis—a small town that’s about 10 miles from our condo. We were seriously out in the wilderness. I got no cell reception at the condo and felt totally cut off from civilization. I wanted to buy the wifi for the week, but David talked me out of it. I don’t like to think I’m utterly dependent on technology, but it did feel kind of unsettling to not check my e-mail for a week! (Plus I had SO MANY e-mails trying to sell me things.) And I really missed Instagram! I limit my social media use so the people I follow are genuinely my friends (this was not always true back when I was on Facebook!) and I missed seeing their faces. Or their kids, anyway. 

My mom and I did a little souvenir shopping at an artisan gallery in Davis while the others hung out in a coffee shop that had a play area outside. I bought a bar of soap that smells like cinnamon and cloves that I’m going to save for this fall, and a cutting board which seemed like a random thing to get, but it was really lovely and I’ve been wanting to get a new one, and this seemed like a more meaningful purchase than grabbing one at Home Goods. (Mmm... now I want to get some delicious cheese to put on my cutting board.)

We ate at a restaurant in Davis called Siriano’s, which was kind of a little hole in the wall but had yummy pasta and pizza. Coco discovered her love of pasta in oil and garlic sauce. She ate it three times while on vacation and I mean SERIOUSLY ate it. Her sweaty little head smelled like a garlic clove for hours—not to mention the epic diapers that came later (fortunately not in the swimming pool).

(In case you can't get enough of our family vacation, here's Part I.)

Want to see a bald baby? This is what I was blogging about two years ago.

And four years ago, I was eight months out from Eliza's loss and answering questions posted on Glow. Feels like ages ago... and yet most of my answers today would be the exact same.

And six years ago, I was thoroughly enjoying a very different sort of vacation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

West Virginia / Pittsburgh Recap Part I: In Which We Are Mostly In theCar

Sometimes vacations are restful and relaxing. And sometimes “vacations” are a code word for spending hours in a minivan with my kids and my parents, driving from St. Louis to Cincinnati to Canaan Valley West Virginia to Pittsburgh to Cleveland and back to St. Louis over the course of twelve days while also attending a wedding and sleeping four to a queen bed (turns out the “family bed” only works for us when we are in a king-sized bed and the baby is in a crib).

In order to make the blog posts manageable, I’m going to break up our trip recap. So here goes…

Last Friday we drove to Cincinnati. We loaded up a rented minivan and packed plenty of snacks for the road.

(Can I just say that traveling in a minivan did NOT sell me on it at all. One of my friends rented a minivan on her vacation last summer and then she came home and bought one even though she only has two kids and has no plans to have more. I know people LOVE their minivans. But the Toyota we drove was unimpressive. It had no bells or whistles, and my mom and I were stuck in the way back because the latch system only worked in the captain chairs in the middle row or in the center of the backseat. So that was annoying. I’d hoped to put the two car seats in the way back. The ride wasn't that smooth or quiet, and I am still satisfied with my little Honda.)

(Also the van could definitely have been cleaner. I wiped all the seats down with a Clorox wipe because it seemed gross to me. But it was the only minivan available at the rental place, so we took what we could get. And we got a good deal on it, so there's that.)

ANYWAY, we managed to get out of town by 9:25am and we hit the road for Cincinnati. It was a bit out of our way—we could have made the drive to our condo near Davis, WV in about 10 hours, but we’d never been to a ballgame in Cincinnati and stopping there broke the drive into two six-hour days, which seemed about what we could manage.

The drive on day one went really smoothly. We cruised along for three hours with Zuzu enjoying the scenery and chatting pleasantly. We stopped to pick up sandwiches at a Jimmy Johns and ate them at a nearby park. We rolled into Cincinnati right on schedule.

We just had a little bit of luggage.
Unfortunately, our hotel was not super ideal. We chose it because the location was perfect (close to the ballpark), the price was right (cheap), and it had suites and that seemed perfect for staying with my parents and the girls (my parents babysat for us at the hotel while David and I went to the game). But it was pretty old and grimy. The top of Coco’s feet turned black from crawling around on the carpet, which totally grossed me out. Sometimes you do get what you pay for. Ew.

Anyway, the funny thing about it was that my best friend from her high school and her husband were also in Cincinnati that evening—they’d stayed with us earlier in the week on their way to a conference in Columbus, then gone on to Louisville to see friends, and then went to Cincinnati for a night before going on to Columbus. So we ended up in Cincinnati on the same night, going to the same ballgame, and staying at the same hotel. Without even realizing we were going to be in the same city on Friday until two days before. Serendipity!

Mind blown that Ellie Kate is in Cincinnati with us!
David and I had great seats at the ballgame, but a storm rolled in with wicked lightning and some rain after the third inning so the game was delayed. 

At the ballpark (obvs)
We hung out for a while, trying to be optimistic, but when the radar showed another storm rolling through around 9:45pm, I told David that we had to figure something out because both Coco and I were going to be uncomfortable if I didn’t get back to nurse her before bed.

We decided to leave through the re-entry gate, but we didn’t end up going back to the game since it got late and we needed to be up at a reasonable time to make the second half of our drive. I felt bad for David (plus we had splurged on really good seats!) but that’s how it goes. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.

Saturday morning we had planned to get up and on the road after letting the girls swim. But the hotel’s advertised pool was actually an agreement with a nearby YMCA that hotel guests could swim for $5. We were not impressed. Instead, we decided to walk down to the waterfront park on the river and let the girls play in the splash pads and playground.

It turned out to be a great way to spend the morning, and Monica and Ellie Kate met us down there so the girls had tons of fun and we stayed two hours longer than planned, but it was totally worth it. The sun was warm, but there was a nice breeze in the shade and the mist from the splash pads cooled everybody off. I got crabby because we left the diaper bag in the minivan when David dropped us off and went to park and when I called him to tell him to bring it, he told me it was “too late” and so I had to wait until he got to us and then get the key and stomp off all pissy to where he parked the van because the diaper bag had the swim suits and sunscreen and wasn’t really OPTIONAL for a splash pad. I don’t know how it got overlooked—I had my parents and David helping unloading girls and loading up the stroller and I didn’t take a sufficient itinerary before we got started. Lesson learned!

Coco and Bop

Ellie Kate having a thoughtful moment
Zuzu cracked me up in one splash pad because she was pretending to be Elsa and the water was her “powers” and she was running around singing “Let It Go.”

"LET IT GO...."
The morning ended with a carousel ride, courtesy of Monica. I’d told Zuzu we weren’t going to do the carousel, but she cried and David was still checking out the Reds’ gift shop, so she ended up getting to go with Ellie Kate. Hashtag spoiled. Also Monica paid for them to have three rides, and when they were both upset that the convertible car on the carousel was already taken, Ellie Kate’s grandma “Mimi” sat in the car to reserve it for them the next two times. Hashtag totally spoiled rotten.

She's so pissed that she's not in the car.

So satisfied.
The rhythm of the day was a little bit off then because we needed lunch early on and we’d gotten such a late start and we really wanted to find our condo in West Virginia before it got dark, but we also stopped to buy groceries, which took slightly longer than expected.

As it turned out, it was pretty dark by the time we made it, but we did make it. We arrived at the condo, which Zuzu called “our little house” around 8pm and unpacked and relaxed and jerry-rigged a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs using the ironing board, much to Coco’s dismay. 

FREEDOM! (About to be withdrawn.)
Once we'd blocked the baby from the stairs, we were officially "on vacation"!